By Lonnie Wilkey
Baptist and Reflector, Editor
The Twitterverse has been in a “twitter” since messengers adopted a motion from the floor of the 2021 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville to ask newly elected president Ed Litton to appoint a Sexual Abuse Task Force.
Unfortunately, a lot of negative “twittering” has been directed toward members of the SBC Executive Committee who voiced concerns that the motion, made with good intentions, had potential to harm the EC’s ministry and the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.
To be clear, dealing with sexual abuse is important and right, but pursuing that end accompanied by verbal abuse isn’t acceptable.
Christians are not treating each other with respect and consideration. If we can’t be Christ-like with each other, how can we show the love of Christ to non-believers? They see how we act toward each other and call us hypocrites. Rightfully so.
In the special called meeting of the SBC Executive Committee on Oct. 5, chairman Rolland Slade apologized for how some EC members conducted themselves during the Sept. 28 called meeting. He shared Proverbs 3:5-6 and led a prayer for unity. “We must stop fighting with each other,” he pleaded. Good advice — words that should apply to all of us.
Beyond the tension within the EC, a problem I see is that apparently few people offering harsh criticism fully understand the weighty responsibility of being a trustee.
I have some understanding of what it means to be a trustee, and I am a fan of trustees who voluntarily give of their time to serve in this role. Before I joined the staff of the B&R in 1988, I served for five years as director of communications for the Education Commission of the SBC, an entity that was disbanded in the mid-1990s because of restructuring the Southern Baptist Convention.
I had the privilege of serving under Arthur L. Walker Jr., the executive director of the Education Commission. Dr. Walker was one of the wisest men I have known. In 1993, Dr. Walker authored Southern Baptist Trusteeship.
Though the book was primarily geared for trustees of SBC-related educational institutions, the general principles of trusteeship are the same. Dr. Walker wrote that the “biblical concept of a steward is a good basis for understanding stewardship … There seems to be no better description of the role of a board of trustees of a Baptist institution than that the board is a ‘steward’ and has been entrusted with the general administration of the affairs of that entity.”
Walker also wrote that “no Baptist convention could ever operate its agencies and institutions without trustees. It would be impossible to make the substantive decisions necessary to institutional life on the floor of, and in the time available to, a Baptist convention.
“Baptists are too pluralistic and the purposes and concerns of individuals and groups too diverse for a commonality of purpose and operational procedure to be determined in the deliberative body of a convention annual meeting. Through the trustee system the diversity of the Baptist constituency can be represented.”
Perhaps his most important concept was that “the first principle of stewardship which trustees must acknowledge is that their service requires one to be ‘faithful to his master’ (I Corinthians 4:2).
“The trustees of denominational institutions must answer to God, to whom the entity for which they have oversight ultimately belongs and for whose glory both the entity and trustee exist.”
The current trustees of the EC were entrusted to care for the entity and the SBC when they accepted the position. They have waded through important details while heavily weighing their stewardship responsibilities.
Diverse perspectives aside, I am certain not a single EC trustee condones sexual abuse. That would be unthinkable. However, the approved motion at the SBC annual meeting put the EC trustees in an unenviable position. The trustees need to follow the will of the messengers who requested the waiving of attorney-client privilege, but it also potentially puts them in a position to compromise the interests of the SBC beyond the sexual abuse crisis.
There is a tension. They must address the concerns of sexual abuse victims while simultaneously not destroying the SBC’s most important ministry tool — the Cooperative Program — that enables us to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”
So, now the decision has been made whether we agree with it or not. Attorney-client privilege was waived. What happens next will determine the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Those of us standing to the side watching have a decision to make. Will we cast stones at those directly engaged in the difficult work ahead, or will we get on our knees and pray as never before? Now is the time to model what it means to truly love each other as God loves us.
There is no place in society for sexual abuse, especially in Christian homes and churches. But ultimately, we can’t depend on the Southern Baptist Convention to rid our churches of sexual abuse. The horse will have left the barn long before word finally gets to SBC leaders. Stopping sexual abuse begins in the true headquarters of the SBC — the local church.
Pray that the Sexual Abuse Task Force will be thorough in its investigation and that they will find ways to help stop abuse. Pray that the Task Force will also proceed in a way that ensures Southern Baptists can continue to have the means to take the good news of Jesus Christ around our state, nation and world for years to come or until Jesus returns.
And while praying, let’s embrace Scripture: “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” B&R